How to Throw a SpeakEasy Party
I keep getting requests for this specific information, and really, its like asking “how do I join the mafia”. If you know someone, you’re “in”. If you don’t know someone, you do what you see in the movies.
Since “Auntie Carrie” is all about education, a stiff drink and a side hustle, I will share some tidbits to make your speak-easy themed party a success. For starters, everything mentioned in “How to Throw a Party” should be addressed. Here are my other ideas, most of which I have used at my get-togethers:
1. In my not so humble opinion, the most important detail: the entrance to the party should be crass and/or convoluted. To the point of being hard to find. Anyone who has been to Lansky Lounge in downtown Manhattan knows what I mean. Guests should have to walk through a kitchen, a side door, the garage. Knock on your basement window. Take the freight elevator. The less glamorous, the better. There should be no obvious sign that that is where the party is. Just a building number or a green flag. Or one busted bulb. This one detail will be presented in the invite.
2. Speakeasy’s are all about the liquor. Stick to all of the 1920 -30s favorites. (Here’s a nice blog I found devoted to cocktails and another impressive site with an extensive cocktail library.) I would still do a signature drink for the event, plus offer the usual Champagne cocktails, Manhattans, Sidecars etc. Milk and Honey had this amazing ginger vodka drink that was addictive.
3. Make up a list of rules for the event. Again, the more convoluted, the more enjoyable. Speakeasy’s were all about restrictions. So have fun with it. Everyone must use an alias. Everyone must register to be a member “of the club”. All single men must wear a red rose in their lapel. DEFINITELY have a code to enter: A special knock, a word, an object to be given at the door.
4. Decor: The lighting should be very warm and subdued. If possible, get a piano and place a singer on top of it. Bartenders should be in some sort of uniform. Lots of crystal. Furs. Flowers. Velvet. Rich lavish touches. Its the required contrast and shock from the exterior experience. A intimidating bouncer at the door.
5. Music: I’d stay to Jazz, Lounge or Bossa Nova. If contemporary music, keep it loungy, sexy and subversive (Amy Winehouse, anyone?) That’s what I would normally do. However, I did go to a Great Gatsby type party last year that played lots of recent hip hop and 80s music, and we had a blast. It sets a different tone but is also very effective. Lastly, if at all possible, get your guests to sing.
6. Attire: It must state “appropriate attire required” on the invite. The more rules the better. Black Tie. Great Gatsby. You decide, but keep it ritzy, lush, sexy. If you can, get a female friend to dress in a man’s suit a la Marlene Dietrich. (For inspiration, start by watching clips from Chicago and The Cotton Club.)
7. Offer food. I would stick to decadent finger foods (mini crabcakes, clams casino, oysters, cheese & chocolate fondue, sushi) or go the Southern/home cooking route (bowls of chili, fried chicken etc) . However, I was at one “hidden party”, that was a fully catered affair. Big bowls of pasta. Huge pieces of salmon. Salads. Steaks. A very voluptuous spread. If you live in NYC, I highly recommend that you check out Fairway Catering. I enjoyed their food/services at a recent event and must say it was all delicious, bountiful and decent on the wallet. Start with the Meditterrean plate.
8. For items that I am missing, do some research to feel inspired. If you are striving for authenticity, make sure to have the place raided by the “coppers”. And you don’t have to stick to the Great Gatsby style of speakeasy feel. Watch “The Cotton Club”. Or “Kansas City”. “Cabaret”. What you are really going after is the delicate balance of decadence and fear. The German Expressionist exhibit, “Glitter and Doom” would prove to be incredible reference material.
9. Lastly, remember you set the mood of the party. If you are not having fun, no one else will. It all comes down to attitude. Well, attitude and liquor.
(side note: I “stole” that image from my dad’s website)
post script: I recently found the best written, most comprehensive article in the Wall Street Journal “Speakeasies with a Twist” on the revival of the SpeakEasy and on how they have managed to remain authentic. Read this before you do anything else